Telling Details Chinese Fiction, World Literature
What is a detail? How is it different from xijie, its Chinese counterpart? Is "reading for the details" fundamentally different from "reading for the plot"? Did xijie xiaoshuo, the Chinese novel of details, give the world its earliest form of modern fiction? Inspired by studies of vision and modernity as well as cinema, this book gazes out on the larger world through the small aperture of the detail, highlighting how concrete literary minutiae become "telling" as they reveal the dynamics of seeing and hearing, the vibrations of the mind, the complexity of the everyday, and the imperative to recognize the minute, the humble, and the hidden. In a strain of masterpieces of xijie xiaoshuo, such details play a key role in pivoting the novel from didacticism towards a capacious modern form.
Examining the Chinese detail as both a common idiom and a unique concept, and extrapolating it from individual works to the culture at large, reveals under-explored areas of the Chinese novel: its psychological depths, its connections with other genres and forms, its partaking in Chinese material life and capitalist modernity, as well as repressions and difficulties surrounding its reception in national and international contexts. With carefully chosen case studies, Xiao’s book not only exemplifies the value of deep reading in approaching complex works of Chinese fiction as world literature, it also throws light on the aesthetics and politics of "the unseen," which has become central to a humanist tradition that flows across literature, cinema, and other art forms.
Part One Detail and Difference
Part Two Fiction of Details
1. In the Realm of the Senses: Looking into Jin Ping Mei
2. Seeing is Remembering: Zhang Dai’s Rhapsodic Texts and Modern Chinese Lyrical Fiction
3. Silent Strangers and Strange Silence: The Edge and the Center of The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai
4. Fragments of Time, Fiction of Details: Eileen Chang, Late Style, and World Literature
5. From Border Town to the Frontier of the Mind: Shen Congwen’s Passage to the World
6. Jia Pingwa’s Mountains and Seas: "Untranslatable" Fiction as World Literature
"Telling Details offers nothing less than a reconceptualizing of Chinese literary modernity, bringing together late Imperial fiction, canonical twentieth-century authors, and globally recognized contemporary writers under the umbrella of the "fiction of details" as China’s distinctive contribution to world literature. From the almost shocking modernity of the Ming Dynasty Jin Ping Mei (arguably the world’s first modern novel) to the mid-1900s stories of Eileen Chang to the scandalous "untranslatable" works of contemporary author Jia Pingwa, the fiction of details decentres plot in favour of "telling details" that reveal psychological depth and society’s political unconscious through a distinctively Chinese literary aesthetic that has renewed itself, very much in conversation with world literary developments, from late Imperial times to the present. This rich and unprecedented study will provoke readers and scholars to further reading and new insights for years to come."
-Jason McGrath, Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, USA
"Telling Details takes a close look at the "fiction of detail" by defining an exquisitely aesthetic aspect in traditional and modern Chinese fiction. Xiao delves into how and why the novelist lingers and elaborates on sensuous and allegorical details and articulate hidden significant human experiences. With its unique perspective, this wonderful book has potential to generate much discussion on visual minutae and and fabrics in fiction and film."
- Ban Wang, William Haas Endowed Chair Professor in Chinese Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature, Standford University, USA
"In Telling Details, Jiwei Xiao boldly reads Chinese fiction from the 17th century to the present as representative of a modern(ist) style that focuses on the representation of detail. With the critical flair of the true comparatist, she perceptively connects the Chinese novels with works from other national traditions, arguing eloquently and convincingly in support of their status as "world literature." This book has much to offer for students of fiction, regardless of their regional specialization."
-Michel Hockx, Professor of Chinese Literature, University of Notre Dame, USA
"Uniquely bridging the fields of Late Imperial and Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literary Studies, Telling Details should become required reading in graduate classes on Chinese literary modernity, and select chapters could be assigned in undergraduate classes along with selections from primary texts."
-Paola Iovene, University of Chicago, MCLC Resource Center, USA
"The book is meticulously edited and elegantly written. More broadly, it makes a timely, intriguing, and invigorating contribution to literary criticism and cultural theory in a global frame."
-Sheldon Lu, UC Davis, Rocky Mountain Review, Spring 2022, pp. 156-8